Saturday, April 22, 2006

Malebranche on Voetius's Criticism of Descartes

One of the most important contemporary criticisms of Descartes was that of Gisbert Voet, a scholar at the University of Utrecht. Voetius, a member of the Reformed Church, early became a central member of the so-called 'Further Reformation', which attempted to put down anything that encouraged the human inclination to sin. In his later life he wasn't as involved in such matters, but he remained an important figure in Reformed scholasticism.

In the early 1640s a controversy erupted at the University of Utrecht over the teachings of Henri Regis, an early Cartesian, and his followers. The controversy became violent and, as Rector of the University, Voetius had to step in and try to rectify things. This he did by putting forward a set of theses sharply critical of Descartes. Things began to escalate from there. Regis responded, with Descartes's help. Trying to calm the situation, the Utrecht magistrates banned the new philosophy from the University of Utrecht on March 24, 1642.* Voet encouraged a student, Schook, to write a book against Descartes, the Admiranda Methodus Philosophiae Renati des Cartes. Given proofs of the work by friends, and thinking that the work was directly written by Voetius, Descartes wrote a Letter to Voetius, in which he was sharply critical of the Utrecht scholar, whose arguments he regarded as being little more than 'childish dialectics'. Voetius, of course, regarded Descartes as a 'pupil of the Jesuits', in the derogatory as well as the literal sense.

This Querelle d'Utrecht sparked up by the Calvinists naturally tended to annoy the largely Catholic Cartesians. It's not surprising, therefore, that Voetius comes under sharp criticism in Malebranche's Search after Truth (; LO 293-294). Malebrance calls Voetius "an insignificant man" and "an ardent and vehement declaimer," regarding him as an irrational demagogue stirring up religious hatred against Catholics and physics:

Descartes was a Catholic; he studied under the Jesuits, and he often spoke of them with admiration. This was enough to enable this malign spirit to persuade the enemies of our religion (who are easily excitable over matters as delicate as those of religion) that Descartes is an emissary of the Jesuits with dangerous plots, because the slightest appearance of truth in matters of faith has more force upon men's minds than in real and positive truths of physics or metaphysics, to which they have given very little effort.

The criticism for which Malebranche has the most scorn is that Descartes must secretly be an atheist because his arguments for the existence of God are so bad.

Malebranche, after insisting that truth loves gentleness and peace, and will ultimately triumph goes on to encourage Catholics to give him a fair chance:

It is not surprising that an enemy of Descartes, a man of a religion different from his, an ambitious man who dremaed only of raising himself upon the ruins of those above him, a declaimer without judgment, in other words, a Voët, speaks with contempt about what he does not understand and does not wish to understand. But we have cause for astonishment when men who are neither enemies of Descartes nor of his religion have accepted the adverse and contemptuous opinions against him because of the insults they have read in books composed by the enemy of his person and his religion.

This heretic's book, entitled Desperatea causa papatus, sufficiently shows his impudence, ignorance, enthusiasm, and his desire for appeaing zealous in order to believe on his word. For just as we should not believe all the fables he has amassed in this book against our religion, so also we should not accept on his word the atrocious accusations and insults he has invented against his enemy.

He ends by encouraging everyone to read Descartes objectively and fairly:

Let a man read his works then, so that he might have other proofs against him than simple hearsay; and I hope that after he has read them and meditated them, Descartes will no longer be accused of atheism, and that on the contrary he will have all the respect that one should have for a man who has demonstrated in a very simple and evident way not only the existence of a God and the immortality of the soul but also an infinity of other truths that were unknown until his time.

The Utrecht Crisis peeps in here and there throughout the correspondence and philosophical texts of the time. Voltaire, for instance, calls Voetius a 'theological scamp'; and Spinoza, accused of atheism, takes a sort of resigned comfort in the parallel between his case and Descartes's.

* And when was the ban officially lifted? On March 23, 2005, 363 years after it was imposed.

(Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Notes and Links

* Liz Gross's Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Science at PLoS Biology has received some discussion in the blogosphere, and is well worth reading.

* Coturnix has a great post on science blogging. It's possible to claim too much for blogging, but I think science blogging does have the potential to provide a partial remedy for scientific illiteracy. The fundamental problem with scientific illiteracy, it seems to me, is that the overwhelming majority of us don't have any significant scientific instruction beyond high school -- and, let's face it, it doesn't stick without periodic reinforcement. Moreover, scientific literacy, far more than other kinds of literacy, dates quickly. The full solution to this, I think, would be to develop a widespread culture favorable to adult education, and the institutions and mechanisms to make ongoing education genuinely feasible for most people. But science blogging can help, I think, by giving people more exposure to actual scientific work or, even failing that, to the people who are doing the actual scientific work in a field.

* In reading Terms & Conditions for a Yahoo! service recently, I discovered that it is explicitly a violation of those terms & conditions to use Yahoo! software to run a nuclear facility. I mention it in case any of my readers might ever be in a position in which they will be tempted to run a nuclear facility with Yahoo! software.

* The MLA's Language Map is quite a neat little resource. It's a bit slow, but it's a lot of fun to play around with. It shows just how linguistically diverse the United States is (an article at Inside Higher Ed says that it shows the U.S. to be, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, the most linguistically diverse country in the world).

* I found Robert KC Johnson's discussion of constitutional interpretation at "Cliopatria" to be fascinating. Like Johnson, I'm attracted to Kyvig's proposal: it gives us a layered constitution, without turning it into a wax nose. On this view, the layers are:

Original Constitution
Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10)
Reconstruction (Amendments 13-15)
Progressive Era (Amendments 16-19)

(The amendments that are not emphasized in this way of conceiving it are [11] restricting the federal judicial power (1795); [12] modifying the process for Presidential elections (1803); [20] modifying the election process (1933); [21] repealing the Prohibition Amendment (1933); [22] restricting Presidential terms (1951); [23] granting D.C. electors (1961); [24] preventing tax restrictions on the right to vote (1964); [25] establishing the Presidential succession (1967); [26] extending right to vote to anyone over 18 (1971); [27] on the compensation of members of Congress (1992). A more refined account would consider these as well; but it's noteworthy that most of these don't have to do with rights but with structures and processes.)

Two Levels

It gets a bit serious and stuffy around here sometimes, so I thought I'd share this joke from Blogotional, which I found funny.

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to convert or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy, if the Pope won, they would have to leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged, but wise, Rabbi Moishe to represent them in the debate. However, as Rabbi Moishe spoke no Italian and the Pope spoke no Hebrew, they all agreed that it would be a "silent" debate.

On the chosen day, the Pope and Rabbi Moishe sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.

Rabbi Moishe looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.

Rabbi Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.

Rabbi Moishe pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared that he was beaten, that Rabbi Moishe was too clever, and that the Jews could stay.

Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope, asking what had happened.

The Pope said, "First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there is still only one God common to both our beliefs. Then, I waved my finger to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He had me beaten and I could not continue."

Meanwhile the Jewish community were gathered around Rabbi Moishe. "How did you win the debate?" they asked.

"I haven't a clue," said Rabbi Moishe. "First he said to me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I said to him, we're staying right here."

"And then what?" asked a woman.

"Who knows?" said Moishe, "He took out his lunch, so I took out mine."

C.D. Broad on the Problem of Other Minds

Our belief in the existence of other minds is not reached by inference; and our belief in the existence of material objects is not reached by inference. Nevertheless, each of these beliefs can be rendered probable by certain inverse or analogical arguments, provided we admit that they have a finite antecedent probability. But the two beliefs are not logically independent of each other. For some, at any rate, of the arguments which support the belief in matter depend on our accepting the statements of other people about their perceptions; and the acceptance of such statements presupposes our belief in other minds. Again, arguments by analogy to support our belief in other minds presuppose either

a. that the feelings which we feel and the sensa which we sense are appearances to us of material objects, or
b. that some sensa are capable of being sensed by more than one mind.

Since the second condition is doubtful, whilst the first is sufficient even if the second be false, it follows that arguments by analogy in support of our belief in other minds are stronger if we believe that sensa are appearances of matter than if we do not.

[C. D. Broad, Mind and Its Place in Nature, Chapter 7.]

This question of the relation between our belief in the material world and our belief in other minds is an interesting one; I'm reminded of Arnauld, who thinks that it is more certain that there are other minds than that there is a material world, and so argues for the existence of the material world by arguing for it as a sort of intersubjective medium.

Anselm's Day

Today is the feast of St. Anselm, so here are some resources relevant to the day. Online resources on Anselm are very uneven, but I've provided ones that I thought were at least interesting.

The best translations of Anselm's works into English that are online (indeed, that exist) are probably those of Jasper Hopkins.

On the so-called ontological argument, Hopkins's article Anselm's Debate with Gaunilo (PDF) is an excellent guide to some of the misunderstandings of the argument that need to be avoided. Gyula Klima's papers, St. Anselm's Proof and On whether id quo nihil maius cogitari potest is in the understanding, are probably the most interesting discussions that argue that the argument is sound. For interesting discussions that come to the conclusion that the argument fails, I recommend Peter Millican's The One Fatal Flaw in Anselm's Argument (PDF) and Peter King's Anselm's Intentional Argument (PDF). One of the fascinating things about Anselm's argument is that while very few people accept the argument as sound, almost no one agrees about why it is not. The two discussions, in King and in Millican, provide the most serious arguments I've found for the existence flaws in the argument. (My own view of the argument is similar to Klima's: it is sound but probably begs the question.)

On Anselm's vies about the Incarnation (and atonement, which is a major focus of Anselm's theory of the Incarnation), I recommend Nicholas Cohen's Feudal Imagery or Christian Tradition? (PDF), which points out a number of problems with the old canard that Anselm's model of atonement is 'feudal'. See also Michael Deem's discussion of Anselm's Chalcedonianism in A Christological Renaissance (PDF).

Katherin Rogers has an interesting paper on Anselm on Grace and Free Will (PDF). Hopkins also has a paper, Freedom of Will (PDF), that makes some interesting comparisons between Anselm and Harry Frankfurt on this subject.

Thomas Williams and Sarah Visser discuss the De Veritate in Anselm on Truth (PDF).

Jeffrey Brower discusses Anselm on Ethics (PDF).

Susan Krantz Gabriel discusses Brentano's Account of Anselm's Proof of Immortality in Monologion 68-69 (PDF).

John Janaro's Saint Anselm and the Development of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (PDF) discusses Anselm's view on original sin. See also Kevin McMahon's Anselm and the Guilt of Adam (PDF).

A number of the above articles can be found in the excellent (and wholly online) Saint Anselm Journal.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Contrastive Questions

Consider the following questions:

Q1. Why does anything at all exist?
Q2. Why does anything at all exist (rather than nothing existing at all)?

In the previous post I gave an argument for the claim that these questions are not equivalent, despite their verbal similarity -- cases of overdetermination. Discussing the matter with Richard in the comments, it occurred to me that there's a related argument for this claim. The argument is this. Q1 is about a member of a class; Q2 is about the class.

It's clear that Q2 is about the class 'anything at all exists', because it is opposed to a contrast class, 'nothing existing at all'. We see this with other questions:

P1. Why did the window break?
P2'. Why did the window break (rather than not break)?

To answer P1, all we have to do is explain this particular positive case: the window actually broke. Our answer to P2', however, has to mark off all relevant positive cases (all cases in which the window would have broken) from the contradictory cases (all cases in which the window would not have broken). (I add the word 'relevant' because usually we don't hold ourselves to a fully rigorous standard in answering questions like P2'. If our answer to P2' fails to give us the information required to mark of the positive class from its contradictory, our answer fails to give us the information needed in order to say why the window broke rather than not (it would just give us information needed in order to say why the window broke).

If questions of form 2 (Why P rather than not P?) typically call for an answer not merely about distinguishing one class from another; and questions of form 1 (Why P? understood noncontrastively) do not typically require such an answer, the questions are not equivalent. We do know, in fact, that this is usually the case with contrastive questions. If I ask "Why P rather than Q?" I am asking for something that distinguishes P-cases, one of which obtains, from Q-cases, none of which do. If I ask "Why P?" noncontrastively, I am simply asking for the explanation of a particular P-case. So why would one deny that questions of form 2 are simply a specific form falling under the more general "Why P rather than Q?"

This argument is related to the overdetermination argument in that overdetermination is the easist place to see that one question requires a class-relevant answer and the other requires a case-relevant answer. But the argument is slightly different in that it shows more clearly the mistake of those who want to conflate Q1 and Q2. They assume that Q2 means:

X: What is the explanation of this: P and not not-P?

When in reality Q2 means:

Y: What is the explanation of this: (any) case of P obtaining rather than (any) case of not-P?

X and Y are not at all the same question; and this is true even if we are dealing with classes involving only one case each. In X, P is not a class; in Y it is.

Contrastive Explanation for Something Rather than Nothing

There has been some interesting discussion of contrastive explanation at Maverick Philosopher and Philosophy, etc.

Are these two questions equivalent?

Q1. Why does anything at all exist?
Q2. Why does anything at all exist (rather than nothing existing at all)?

Now, there are cases where a contrastive question clearly is not equivalent to an apparently similar noncontrastive question. For instance:

P1. Why did the window break?
P2. Why did the window break (rather than crack without breaking)?

The two questions are clearly not equivalent because an adequate answer to P1 will give us information about two things: the conditions required for windows in general to break; the events that fulfilled those conditions in this particular case. An adequate answer to P2, on the other hand also must give us information about the conditions required for windows in general to crack without breaking, and the events that fulfilled those conditions in this particular case. In other words, P2 is a more specific question than P1: to answer it you need not only to know about how windows break; one must also know about how windows crack without breaking. Strictly speaking I think this is true even if we modify P2 in the following way:

P2'. Why did the window break (rather than not break)?

P2' isn't equivalent to P1 (although they are very similar) because P2' is a more specific question: an adequate answer to it requires saying something about what would be involved in the window's not breaking. Of course, it is very tempting to think we can simply assume that the factor that explains the window's breaking is the contradictory of the factor that would have explained the window's not breaking. But we cannot assume that even this is always the case. Consider:

R1. Why did the scanner identify this as blue?
R2. Why did the scanner identify this as blue (rather than not identify it as blue)?

Let's suppose that the reason the scanner identified the object as blue is that it was jammed, so that it would identify anything as blue. But the scanner's not being jammed is not necessarily what would have explained the scanner's not identifying the object as blue. For if the scanner were not jammed it might have identified it as blue anyway. 'The scanner is jammed so that it identifies everything as blue' is an adequate answer to R1. But if the object is blue, and the jammed scanner identifies it as such, the adequate answer to R2 is that 'the scanner would only not identify it as blue if it were off or jammed in some other position'.

Therefore I am inclined to deny the claim that "Why X rather than not-X?" is just the same as "Why X?" The two cannot be equivalent because the conditions for an adequate answer to each are not the same. We can put the point in a crude but clear form. You can answer the latter just by talking about the conditions that actually led to X in this case. To answer the former, you have to talk about the conditions required for not-X as well. But there may be other conditions that would lead to X that have to be taken into account when discussing the latter, that don't have to be taken into account when discussing the former. Q2, P2, and R2 all require some sort of consideration of counterfactuals in the answer. Q1, P1, and R1 do not, because they allow as adequate answers claims that would not be adequate answers to Q2, P2, and R2.

This is not to say that there are no adequate answers to Q2 that would not also be adequate answers to Q1,, or even that all adequate answers to Q2 are adequate answers to Q1 and vice versa; rather, this is to say that the conditions for an adequate answer to Q1 are not the same as the conditions for an adequate answer to Q2. If the same answers are adequate for both questions, they are not adequate for exactly the same reasons. Thus Q1 and Q2 are not equivalent, and we cannot assume on the basis of the question alone that an adequate answer for one will be an adequate answer for the other.

One way to think of it is to think of it in this way. Suppose that things are set up so one factor makes it true in the actual world that something exists; but that there is a 'back-up factor', so that even if the actually explaining factor were to have failed, there would be another fact that would have made it so that something exists. To answer Q1, all we have to do is point to the actually explaining factor. To answer Q2, however, we have to take into account the back-up factor, because leaving it out doesn't explain why anything exists rather than nothing (something would exist even if the actually explaining factor weren't there). But we cannot rule out the possibility of an answer like this simply in virtue of the questions themselves. Therefore Q1 and Q2 are not equivalent, however closely related they might be.


Jorge Gracia and Lloyd Newton have an article on Medieval Theories of the Categories at SEP. It might be useful to give a slightly clearer summary of Aquinas's derivation of the categories than is found in the article.

It begins with predication. Predicates can do several things.

(1) The predicate can express what the subject is. This type of predicate falls into the category of substance.

(2) The predicate can express what inheres in a subject. It can do this (a) absolutely or (b) relatively.
(2a) If absolutely, it can indicate an inherence deriving from (1) matter or (2) form.
(2a1) If from matter, the predicate falls into the category of quantity.
(2a2) If from form, the predicate falls into the category of quality.
(2b) If relatively, the predicate falls into the category of to-another or relatedness.

(3) The predicate can express what does not inhere in a subject but is somehow relevant to it. This may be (a) wholly extrinsic; or (b) in some way intrinsic.

(3a) If wholly extrinsic, (1) we may be talking about something that measures the subject, or (2) we may not.
(3a1) If it measures the subject in some way, it may be a measurement according to (a) time; (b) place.
(3a1a) If time, the predicate falls into the category of when.
(3a1b) If place, the predicate may indicate (1) the parts of a subject in relation to each other, or (2) it may not.
(3a1b1) If so, the predicate falls under the category of situation or position.
(3a1b2) If not, the predicate falls under the category of where.
(3a2) If the predicate is wholly extrinsic but does not measure the subject, it falls within the category of vestment or habit (because things worn are the most obvious example of this category: 'being clothed' is an instance of habit or vestment).

(3b) If we are talking about something that is in some way intrinsic to the subject, we may be indicate (1) something done to the subject or (2) something done by the subject.
(3b1) If done to the subject, the predicate falls under the category of passion.
(3b2) If done by a subject, the predicate falls under the category of action.

Gracia and Newton make a big deal about how this requires an isomorphism between reality and language; but I'm not convinced of it. It's possible, for instance, that there may be predicates that look superficially like they belong in one category, but really belong in another. (For instance, 'undergoes' has a verbal form that usually suggests action; but it obviously falls under the category of passion.) What governs Aquinas's division is the way things are actually attributable to a thing; all this requires is that we can, in fact, attribute things to other things in a way that captures reality. That is, it does not require isomorphism, or even anything approaching it, but merely the ability to say things that are true about reality.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Linguistic Simplification

An exquisite jigger of philosophy of science from Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz:

"The community has been curious about your labors," he told the scholar. "We'd like to hear about it, if you don't mind discussing it. Of course we've all heard about your theoretical work at your own collegium, but it's too technical for most of us to understand. Would it be possible for you to tell us something about it in--oh, general terms that non-specialists might understand? The community has been grumping at me because I hadn't invited you to lecture; but I thought you might prefer to get the feel of the place first. Of course if you'd rather not--"

The thon's gaze seemed to clamp calipers on the abbot's cranium and measure it six ways. He smiled doubtfully. "You'd like me to explain our work in the simplest possible language?"

"Something like that, if it's possible."

"That's just it." He laughed. "The untrained man reads a paper on natural science and asks, 'Now why couldn't he explain this in simple language.' He can't seem to realize that what he tried to read was the simplest possible language--for that subject matter. In fact, a great deal of natural philosophy is simply a process of linguistic simplification--an effort to invent languages in which half a page of equations can express an idea which could not be stated in less than a thousand pages of so-called 'simple' language. Do I make myself clear?"
[Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Bantam (New York: 1988) 182.]
The point could scarcely be put in a better way. Of course, it raises further questions, because it's precisely this that gums up the works when it comes to scientific pedagogy and popularization.

Latour on Critical Barbarity

There has been some discussion of Bruno Latour's article in Critical Theory on the problems with the popularization of critique. We should be careful about over-interpreting the article. Latour explicitly denies that popular relativisms and the like are direct appropriations of critical theory: he insists that they are absurd deformations of critical arguments, "like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party". The repeated parallel to nuclear weapons -- a result of applied science -- is, I would be willing to bet, quite deliberate; Latour's claim is not that he and other critical theorists were wrong but that he and other critical theorists find themselves in much the same boat as nuclear scientists. One of the longstanding points of critical theory has been that when scientists reassure themselves that things like nuclear weapons are simply the result of 'bad guys' using any weapon at hand, they are kidding themselves; and thus Latour finds critical theory in much the same state: critical theorists can't simply say that the conspiracy theories are just what you get when your critical arguments land in the hands of 'bad guys', even though the conspiracy theories, like nuclear weapons are a sort of absurd deformation of scientific work. Latour is unreprentant about what what he calls his critiques of "an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact"; he simply doesn't want to deny that something else also requires critique, namely, "an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases."

In other words, Latour's argument is simply that critical theory must be examined by critical theory. This becomes much clearer, I think, in the expanded version of the article on Latour's website (actually, the lecture on which it is based). There Latour discusses critical theory as pharmakon -- i.e., drug, one that can heal or poison. As he sarcastically says,

Do you see now why it feels so good to be a critical mind? Why critique, this most ambiguous pharmakon, has become such a potent euphoric drug? You are always right! When naïve believers are clinging forcefully to their objects, claiming that they are made to do things because of their gods, their poetry, their cherished objects, you can turn all of those attachments into so many fetishes and humiliate all the believers by showing that it is nothing but their own projection, that you, yes you alone, can see. But as soon as naïve believers are thus inflated by some belief in their own importance, in their own projective capacity, you strike them by a second uppercut and humiliate them again, this time by showing that, whatever they think, their behavior is entirely determined by the action of powerful causalities coming from objective reality they don't see, but that you, yes you, the never sleeping critic, alone can see. Isn't this fabulous? Isn't this really worth going to graduate school to study critique?

Latour calls this suspiciously convenient inconsistency 'critical barbarity'. In his view it's a failure of consistency in the application of critical theory itself: "We explain the objects we don't approve of by treating them as fetishes; we account for behaviors we don't like by disciplines whose makeup we don't examine; and we concentrate our passionate interest on only those things that are for us worthwhile matters of concern." On one issue the critical barbarian uses antifetishism; on another, positivism; on another, realism; without the slightest concern that the three positions are mutually inconsistent. However, Latour goes on to insist that people in science studies are at least somewhat immunized:

But of course such a cavalier attitude with such contradictory repertoires is not possible for those of us, in science studies, who have to deal with states of affairs which fit neither in the list of plausible fetishes—because everyone, including us, does believe very strongly in them—nor in the list of undisputable facts, because we are witnessing their birth, their slow construction, their fascinating emergence as matters of concern. The metaphor of the Copernican revolution, so tied to the destiny of critique, has always been for us, science students, simply moot. This is why, with more than a good dose of field chauvinism, I consider this tiny field so important: it is the little rock in the shoe that might render the routine patrol of the critical barbarians more and more painful.

The danger of the critical participant in science studies, Latour argues, is believing that he has provided an adequate social explanation of the sciences, because then he has begun to use the results of one field (e.g., sociology) uncritically. And so he ends with a challenge to his fellow critical theorists:

Is it really asking too much from our collective intellectual life to devise, at least once a century, some new critical tools? Would we not be thoroughly humiliated to see that military personnel are more alert, more vigilant, more innovative than us, the pride of academia, the crème de la crème, who go on ceaselessly transforming the whole rest of the world into naïve believers, into fetishists, into hapless victims of domination, while at the same time turning them into the mere superficial consequences of powerful hidden causalities coming from infrastructures whose makeup is never interrogated? All the while being intimately certain that the things really close to our hearts would in no way fit any of those roles. Are you not all tired of those "explanations"? I am, I have always been, when I know, for instance, that the God to whom I pray, the works of art I cherish, the colon cancer I have been fighting, the piece of law I am studying, the desire I feel, indeed, the very book I am writing could in no way be accounted for by fetish or fact, nor by any combination of those two absurd positions?

...The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naïve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is not the one who alternates haphazardly like the drunk iconoclast drawn by Goya between antifetishism and positivism, but the one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution. I am aware that to get at the heart of this argument one would have to renew also what it means to be a constructivist, but I have said enough to indicate the direction of critique, not away but toward the gathering, the Thing. Not westward, but, so to speak, eastward.

I think Mooney's probably right that this article marks a change in the Science Wars; I very much doubt, however, that it marks the change Mooney suggests. Latour doesn't want to let go of the old critiques; he is not saying he was wrong. (Indeed, he explicitly denies that he was.) He is saying that the old critiques need to be reformulated in a more sophisticated form. He's not conceding defeat, or even reluctantly reaching across the table for an alliance; he's gearing up for a new set of battles, for a more thorough critique.

(HT: Reality Conditions)

Links for Noting

* The most recent version of the early women writers meme list is up at Bardiac.

* Cliopatria is holding a symposium on transnational histories of America.

* I'm late on these, but History Carnival #29 is up at "(a)musings of a graduate student", and Carnivalesque #14, fittingly called A Cabinet of Curiosities is up at "Earmarks in Early Modern Culture".

* The Case for Philosophy of Chemistry (PDF) by Eric Scerri and Lee McIntyre. A lovely discussion of my favorite sub-discipline of philosophy of science. (HT: prosthesis)

* Jack Perry is musing on the immigration dispute here and here at "Cantànima".

I have returned home, which means that posting will probably be up in the near future. However, before that I have some cleaning up to do, notably in the blogroll, where some outdated and broken links need fixing.

UPDATE: Nathanael Robinson helps to correct a massive lacuna in the women writers meme by proposing a French-African women writers list.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Thomas Boston

You scored as Thomas Boston. You are Thomas Boston. You set a high value on evangelistic preaching and the Free Offer of the Gospel.

Thomas Boston


James Orr


Thomas Chalmers


James Denney


John Knox


Which Scottish Theologian are you?
created with

(HT: Rebecca, who is James Orr)

You can read about Thomas Boston's life at CCEL; and you can read one of Boston's most popular works, The Crook in the Lot, online. It's a lovely little discussion of what to do when the path of life seems to be going a bit crooked.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tolstoy's Resurrection

Leo Tolstoy wrote Resurrection in order to raise money to help the Dukhobors, a pacifist Russian religious sect. In particular, the money was to help the Dukhobors relocate from Russia, where they were persecuted, to Canada. There was some trouble with collection of royalties. Tolstoy had tended to put all his works in the public domain, because he didn't believe in private property; so people were used to using his works freely. Since Resurrection was for the purpose of raising money, this was a problem; there were many, many pirated editions. However, the project was successful; Tolstoy and others raised enough money to send the Dukhobors to Saskatchewan, where they could live a frontier life without the problems of war. (You can read about the Dukhobors here.)

The actual plot of Resurrection was based on a story Tolstoy had heard from a lawyer friend, about a wealthy man who seduced a serving girl. This had led to the serving girl's dismissal, after which she fell into bad straits; years later, the man happened to serve on a jury that was trying the case of a prostitute accused of stealing money from a client. He recognized the prostitute as the girl he had seduced; his conscience sparked to life and he decided to marry the girl, who was sentenced to four months in prison. They eventually did marry. This story touched Tolstoy deeply. He himself had seduced a serving girl once; this had led to her dismissal, and the girl eventually died. He therefore took the basic story and adapted it to his own ends. As the work stands, it is a complex narrative tracing the moral resurrection of a man, and manages also to be an interesting narrative argument against punishment. All punishment; the argument is that no one has any right to punish anyone else at all.

Naturally, such a conclusion raises the question of how we would manage to have any society at all if no one were ever punished. Tolstoy's answer to this lies in his conception of the Kingdom of God, and, in particular, in his reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Tolstoy reads this sermon as a sort of template for society. As the main character, Nekhlyudov, discovers, the sermon on this reading gives five injunctions that, while difficult for those not used to them, are all attainable by every single person. The five injunctions are as follows:

(1) "This was that one must not only not kill his brother, but not even be angry with him; he must not regard any one as insignificant, 'Raca'; and that if he quarrelled with any one, he must be reconciled before offering a gift to God, that is, before praying." (Matthew 5:21-26)
(2) "This was that man must not only not commit adultery, but must also avoid the enjoyment of a woman's beauty, and having once come together with a woman, he must not be false to her." (Matthew 5:27-32)
(3) "This was that man must not promise anything with oaths." (Matthew 5:33-37)
(4) "This was that man must not only not demand an eye for an eye, but must also turn the other cheek when smitten on one; that he must forgive offences and in humility bear them, and never refuse people that which they ask of him." (Matthew 5:38-42)
(5) "This was that man must not only not hate his enemies and not fight with them, but he must love, help, and serve them." (Matthew 5:43-48)

As Nekhlyudov muses, "Let the people execute these injunctions, and there will be on earth the kingdom of God, and people will attain the highest good, which is within their reach."

One issue that Tolstoy does not consider, and would need to be considered in this context, is whether we can avoid punishing people without violating requirements of justice. It's one thing to say we should not punish those who commit offenses against ourselves; it's another thing to say that no one ever has the responsibility to punish offenses against others. Nonetheless, Tolstoy manages to make an interesting narrative argument against punishment, which deserves to be more widely known. (And I, for one, found Resurrection more interesting and readable than I've yet been able to find most of Tolstoy's work. The characterization and description are not anywhere near as rich; but I think this actually makes the work more accessible than his works.)

[Quotations are from Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection. Wiener & Reeve, trs. Heritage Press (New York) 1963.]

Five Early Women Writers

There's a great cumulative meme going around: name five early (pre-1800) women writers. The list so far is at Bardiac.

My five:

(1) Damaris Cudworth (Lady Masham) -- Occasional Thoughts

(2) Catharine Trotter Cockburn -- The Defence of Mr. Locke's Essay of Human Understanding

(3) Anne Finche (Viscountess Conway) -- The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy

(4) Hester Thrale (a.k.a., Hester Lynch, Hester Piozzi) -- Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson

(5) Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz -- Reply to Sor Philothea

I'm fairly sure that none of these have been mentioned yet by anybody, although it's difficult to be sure. If some of them have, I'll have to enlist Catherine of Siena as my back-up writer.


He Is Risen Indeed

Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! how the heav'nly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee;
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Thro' all eternity.

Crown Him the Lord of love!
Behold His hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his wond'ring eye
At mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of life!
Who triumphed o'er the grave;
Who rose victorious to the strife
For those he came to save:
His glories now we sing,
Who died and rose on high;
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of Heav'n!
One with the Father known,
One with the Spirit through Him giv'n
From yonder glorious throne!
To Thee be endless praise,
For Thou for us hast died;
Be Thou, O Lord, thro' endless days
Adored and magnified.

--Matthew Bridges

He Is Risen

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a man of war;
the LORD is his name.

Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.'
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O LORD, pass by,
till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The LORD will reign forever and ever.

Exodus 15:1-18 (ESV)